The Psychiatric Times Cover Story on Psychiatry's Dance with the Devil... That Wasn't
Simon Oxenham covers the best and the worst from the world of psychology and neuroscience. Formerly writing with the pseudonym "Neurobonkers", Simon has a history of debunking dodgy scientific research and tearing apart questionable science journalism in an irreverent style. Simon has written and blogged for publishers including: The Psychologist, Nature, Scientific American and The Guardian. His work has been praised in the New York Times and The Guardian and described in Pearson's Textbook of Psychology as "excoriating reviews of bad science/studies”.
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Update March 25th 2014: The Psychiatric Times have republished the article along with responses from those involved.
On 6th December 2013 the journal Psychiatric Times published an article online by Richard Noll, a professor of psychology at DeSales University. The editor described the piece as "terrific" and mentioned that the article was being considered as the cover story for the January 2014 print edition. That was before the article mysteriously disappeared from the Psychiatric Times website.
The article was a candid account of the Satanic ritual abuse moral panic that exploded across America in the 1980's and 90's. Allegations of satanic ritual abuse of children were brought against hundreds of carers at day care centres across America following (now discredited) interventions by a small group of psychotherapists, which involved the use of leading questions and suggestive techniques to bring to light so called "repressed memories". A full scale modern day witch hunt reminiscent of the Salem witch trials ensued, destroying the lives of dozens of carers. Corroborating evidence was never found and a great many of the claims made in court were so outlandish that they were deemed impossible. Claims involved witches flying on broomsticks, orgies at airports, children being flushed down toilets into secret rooms, hot air balloon flights, the killing of giraffes and elephants, and unearthed graves - all supposedly undetected by parents while their children were at day care centres. The panic was fuelled by hysterical coverage on 24 hour news channels which warned of an international network of satanists with millions of members:
Noll explains the role that psychiatry played in the hysteria:
"Just 25 years ago, American psychiatry was infected by a psychic pandemic that originated outside the profession. In 1983 it broke out of a reservoir of religious, legal, psychotherapeutic, and mass media mixing bowls. Children in US day care centers and adults in psychotherapy told 2 distinct versions of their malady. By 1988 some elite members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) were making it worse. They had become its vectors. Then other elite psychiatrists stepped in to quarantine the profession. Eventually, just like the last wave of the influenza pandemic, after 1994 it ended as suddenly and incomprehensibly as it had started."
We hear how Noll himself became a target when he rejected claims of satanic ritual abuse at an academic conference and pointed out an FBI report which found no corroborating evidence of the existence of Satanic cults engaged in criminal activity - "let alone kidnapping and ritually sacrificing thousands of American babies":
"Several persons — all licensed mental health professionals — approached me and let me know I wasn't fooling them. They knew I was a witch or a member of a Satanic cult who was there to spread disinformation."
The last line of Noll's article reads:
"Are we ready now to reopen a discussion on this moral panic? Will both clinicians and historians of psychiatry be willing to be on record? Shall we continue to silence memory, or allow it to speak?"
...That line is all the more poignant now that the article can no longer be found on the website of the Psychiatric Times due to legal concerns, which is a shame, because "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Read the withdrawn article "When Psychiatry Battled the Devil", reposted by Gary Greenberg.
Via Gary Greenberg. Image Credit: Shutterstock/TonTonic
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